Augustine's Preached Theology
Living as the Body of Christ
- ISBN: 9780802880222
- Published By: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company
- Published: July 2022
In Augustine’s Preached Theology: Living as the Body of Christ, J. Patout Burns Jr. provides an overview of Augustine of Hippo’s teaching on subjects of church and theology focusing on his sermons. The author, a longtime scholar of Augustine, has written in an accessible style with an introduction and ten chapters. It includes helpful notes, a bibliography of secondary sources, with indexes of authors, subjects, and scripture references. It covers such topics as interpreting scripture, riches and poverty, sin and forgiveness, baptism, eucharist, marriage, the ministry of the clergy, the saving work of Christ, the human situation and Christ and the church. Each chapter is intended to standalone so the reader can focus on reading those chapters of special interest (7).
The author states that the book “has been designed as a resource for identifying and studying Augustine’s theology as it was developed in his preaching” (4). He seeks to incorporate recent advances in the dating of Augustine’s sermons to situate the different ways Augustine spoke on topics relevant to the life of the church. Some sermons can be successfully dated, but in other cases not (6). Some subjects don’t exhibit appreciable change over his career while others may reflect different emphases over time. Still others are influenced by significant debates like those on Donatism and Pelagianism (6).
An important first chapter is on interpreting Christian scripture, where Burns summarizes Augustine’s basic approach for his teaching and preaching. The author notes that Augustine’s views on interpretation and communication were developed in his book On Christian Teaching. The rule of faith and the law of love were his constant interpretative guides (9). While his early treatises on Genesis, Romans and Galatians focused on interpretation of these texts, his sermons were equally devoted to scripture’s application to his hearers (10). The author also provides brief summaries of Augustine’s use of prophecy, typology, and figurative or allegorical expressions centered on Christ (10-19). A key element of Augustine’s preaching was to bring himself and hearers into the text, identifying the listener with Christ, his disciples and the church (18, 22).
Burns notes that Augustine’s preaching on the saving work of Christ, the human situation, and Christ and the church, are the most theologically significant of the essays. The human situation provides the context for the saving work of Christ directed to the church and world. The human situation that necessitates Christ’s work includes the origin of sin in Adam and Eve, vices such as pride and greed, acts of wrongdoing, the transgression of God’s commands such as in the Mosaic Law and unbelief. According to Augustine, the sin of the first human beings brought spiritual and physical death into the world necessitating the Son of God, Jesus Christ, coming into the world to save it (251-2). Augustine’s doctrine of salvation also emphasizes that humanity is not just a captive to sin and death but also to the devil (the personification of evil). Here Christ’s comes into the world (incarnation) to bind the strong man (evil, the devil), also judging wrongdoing and injustice through his own death on a Roman cross (185). The author describes Augustine’s view as a “transaction” in which Christ re-asserts God’s claim over humanity and power of evil through his own death and resurrection from the dead (191-193). For Augustine the resurrection and ascension of Christ to heaven with God was also a vindication and victory of Christ over sin, death, and the devil, resulting in the means for humanity to come to peace with God and be given eternal life. Therefore, Jesus Christ becomes the true mediator between God and humanity. Burns closes with a look at Augustine’s view of Christ as the head of the church, alive and active through the church which participates in God’s mission to the world (255-259).
Augustine’s Preached Theology: Living as the Body of Christ is written by a renowned Augustine scholar with a purpose to make it especially useful for those interested in Augustine’s sermons. It also does the same for those interested in Augustine’s theology. It fills a gap in English literature on this subject. In some cases, he locates specific sermon topics to their time in Augustine’s life. It demonstrates scholarly depth and clarity. One could call this a summation of Augustine’s theology through his preaching. It demonstrates the value of Augustine’s theology for preaching and the value of his preaching for theology.
John Mauger is a doctoral candidate in religion at Claremont Graduate University.John MaugerDate Of Review:May 31, 2023